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Archive for the ‘Moderate Day Hikes’ Category

“This place is amazing. You’ll absolutely love it!”  was the last thing my friend Jonathan said about Grayson Highlands before hanging up the phone.

I admit—I was skeptical.  Although I’d only hit a handful of Virginian trails, I’d done plenty of hiking in the Blue Ridge, and I wasn’t expecting to see anything out of the ordinary.  But the minute we pulled into the parking lot, I knew something was different about this place.  November winds smashed against us, forcing us to don every layer of clothing we owned.  Clouds rushed like windblown leaves against the pale blue sky. Crows cawed ceaselessly in the distance, taking refuge in distant patches of windswept vegetation.

Still, I remained cynical, even as we ascended the Rhododendron Trail.  It wasn’t long, though, till we crested the hill and I realized why Jonathan knew this was such a special place.

Peaks rose in the distance, jutting into the sky like dense shoulder blades of earth.  Craggy rock outcroppings roosted atop distant peaks.  It seemed as though each formation had been placed there by some gigantic god who, tired of his load, had emptied his bag of monolithic stones.

Above: Views of rocky peaks from Rhododendron & Appalachian Spur Trails

Miniature plains of scoured grass stretched from the base of each peak toward the next. Wild ponies grazed on helpless foliage in the distance, and the sky seemed to mimic in beryl blues and wintry whites the mood of the hills below.

Greeted by such a vista, I could only admit to myself that what Jonathan had said was true—I absolutely loved this place.

After clambering for a few hours over the Appalachian Spur Trail, we finally arrived a particularly beautiful rock outcrop, shouldered on each side by wide stretches of rolling meadows.  Evergreens punctuated the exposed landscape and tawny hawks struggled in the relentless winds.  From here, we looked southward to Mt. Rogers and our eyes followed a long stretch of the AT toward Rhododendron Gap.  We discussed our return route between handfuls of homemade cornbread and salted cheddar cheese.

We eventually decided to return via the AT, so that we could skirt the bottoms of the peaks and avoid some of the torrential winds.  About halfway down the trail, I rounded a corner where my husband halted me with an upheld hand, indicating that Jonathan and I should slow down.  I soon realized why—a wild pony grazed just inches from us, slowly crunching shrubbery between his yellowing teeth.

Above: View of wild pony from Appalachian Trail

Leaving the pony to his grassy feast, we tackled the remainder of the trail.  As if pulled by the natural forces of the mountain, we allowed ourselves to separate from one another, and each of us savored the joyous solitude of the Highlands.

Accompanying our decent was an exquisite sunset, which reinforced the rare magic of this place.  Alongside the trail, a young couple huddled quietly in blanket, soaking in the last of the sun’s rays.  Following the couple’s lead, the three of us stood quietly together, our eyes drawn first toward the sunset and then toward one another.  Looking at Jonathan, his eyes seemed to say: “I told you so.”

Hike it: For tips, trail information, and details on the park, please visit the following: Tips on Grayson Highlands

Entry by Lori Beth

© Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (including images and information) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Please see copyright page for additional information.

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Just as the autumn leaves began to fall, Charles and I headed out for a hike in Elk Knob State Park.

This park, a rather new addition to the NC State Park system, is still under construction, but operational and open to visitors.  Future plans for the park include expanding several scenic picnicking areas and adding a maintenance facility.  The park’s on-going development is in no way an impediment to visitors, and in fact, it’s quite exciting to watch the park evolve and grow.

After arriving at the park, Charles and I quickly stashed our car and strapped on our day packs, eager to stretch our legs.  After a few miles of good hiking, we made it to the top, where we bumped into a ranger who graciously let us use his telescope to view the distant city of Charlotte and Mt. Guyot in the Smokies.  That’s one of the many wonderful things about hiking the High Country–it’s not uncommon to run into park rangers who are dedicated to giving visitors a memorable experience.

With a final glance at the surrounding peaks, we began our decent.  About a quarter-mile down, we slipped off the park’s new trail (see below) and onto a steep, rocky road that descended to the parking lot.  This road was the original trail that lead to the top of Elk Knob, but is being replaced by a new trail which is much more accessible and switch-backed.  Those of you who suffer from complaining knees will be grateful for the revision.

Above: view northeast toward Ashe County.

If you plan on hiking in Elk Knob State Park, there are a few things you should know.  The park currently has only one workable trail, which is incomplete.  The entire trail is 1.8 miles and the last 200 yards or so will be completed in the near future.  However, don’t let this stop you from visiting–complete or not, the trail is readily accessible and you can easily hike to the top where you will be rewarded with superb views of the surrounding countryside.

The last part of the hike is steep, so bring a stick or trekking poles.  At the top,  take a moment to ponder windswept vegetation such as Hawthorne, Flaming Azalea, Mountain Ash and the rare Blazing Star.  You should also soak up some of the surrounding vistas which include: The Peak, Three Top and Bluff Mountains, Snake Mountain, Mount Jefferson, Grandfather Mountain, Mount Mitchell, Mt. Rodgers (Va.), and the Iron Mountains in Virginia and Tennessee.

If you are interested in trail building, the park holds scheduled volunteer work days for folks who want to get out and help, especially during the spring and summer months.  If you look at Todd’s calendar, you will see that the park typically hosts trail building days on Saturday mornings at 9:00.

I would like to extend a special thanks to the Blue Ridge Conservancy whose efforts have and continue to help preserve and protect lands adjacent to the park.

Above: view from Elk Knob looking toward Tater Hill.  Depending on the time of year, you can sometimes see paragliders rushing from the top of Tater down toward the valleys below.

Hike It: For more information, including current weather conditions and park activities, please visit the Elk Nob State Park Website

Entry by Lori Beth

© Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material (including images and information) without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.  Please see copyright page for additional information.

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